Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Queen’s boffin creates ‘intelligent’ molecules

A Queen’s University, Belfast scientist, whose research is now used worldwide in blood analysing equipment, has made another important discovery.

Recently announced as the winner of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC) Sensors Award for 2008, Professor A Prasanna de Silva, has created ‘intelligent’ molecules.

The discovery is based on previous research by Professor de Silva and his colleagues at Queen’s, which created ‘catch and tell’ sensor molecules that send out light signals when they catch chemicals in blood.

That technology helped create blood diagnostic cassettes which have achieved sales of over $50m worldwide.

Used in hospitals, ambulances and veterinary offices, the cassettes are used to quickly monitor blood for levels of common salt components such as sodium, potassium and calcium.

Now, an extension of the same design has developed molecules which can act as simple ‘logic gates’: more complex versions of which are what drive current computers.

Explaining about how the new discovery could be used, Prof De Silva, who is a chair of Organic Chemistry at Queen’s, said: “So far, our fluorescent sensor technology has been used in blood diagnostic cassettes worldwide.

“If, for example, you have an accident and need blood, an ambulance crew can analyse your blood at the scene and tell the A&E unit to arrange for a certain type of blood with the necessary salt levels ready at the hospital for your arrival.

“Now, we have extended our sensor designs and discovered other possible uses. One such use could be as an ID tag for cells in an epidemic, such as a bird-flu outbreak. From a population, our sensor molecules could help track infection and highlight vulnerable people.”

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